Category Archives: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Who’s taking care of our national parks?

It’s not news that Great Smoky Mountains National Park is still the most visited park in the nation.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomed a record number of visitors in 2017, according to park officials. 11,338,894 people visited the park in 2017, a 0.2% increase over 2016.

The Blue Ridge Parkway had more than 16 million visits last year. Not surprisingly, these parks require maintenance and the maintenance backlog is dreadful. But a bill introduced in Congress last year would create a continuous funding stream for national parks. Like when you put away money to fix the roof or paint the house in the future, this fund would provide money for fixing our parks. Here’s the bill.

Still, as quoted in the Smoky Mountain News, my representative, U.S. Congressman Mark Meadows, says that “he doesn’t anticipate this particular bill seeing any serious consideration in Congress”. If our own congressional representative isn’t going to push for an issue which is of such economic importance to Western North Carolina, who is?

I’m off on a trip to two of the most out-of-the way places on earth. So this is my last blog for a while.

Keep on hiking!

Government Shutdown in the Smokies

Day Three of the 2018 Government Shutdown!

On Saturday I went to Carl Sandburg National Historic Site to see how the government shutdown was affecting the national parks.

The next day, I drove to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I chose that area because it’s a little out of the way without a visitor center. The Smokies store is in Bryson City.

No signs that the park was officially closed.

Juney Whank falls

I walked the three-waterfall loop – Juney Whank, Tom Branch (see the picture on top) and Indian Creek Falls, a classic 5.5-mile loop. When I started at about 11 am, a very-prepared fisherman was heading to Deep Creek. A few people were walking slowly toward Deep Creek. Nothing unusual.

On Deep Creek Trail, I met a group of guys from Raleigh, walking out of a weekend backpack.

“We started on Friday and got in under the wire,” one said about getting to their campsite.

No one else was on the trail until I reached Sunkota  Ridge junction, the high point on the loop trail. Here, a couple from Louisiana were enjoying a cup of coffee from their thermos and a smoke.

Swain County Heritage Museum

They were navigating from their AllTrails app and didn’t feel they needed any instructions. Instead they asked about good restaurants in Bryson City and Cherokee, where they were staying in a cabin. Still I encouraged them to visit the Smokies Store in Bryson City inside the Swain County Heritage Museum.

But there’s always something new!

Trail use counter

 

On both the Deep Creek and the Indian Creek Trails, the park had installed a trail counter. The sign was very adamant; this is not a camera. Still I waved to it.

Back at the trailhead, someone told me that the only sign of a shutdown was the same sign that I had seen at Carl Sandburg on a bathroom building.

The bathroom was closed and the sign wasn’t very obvious. Most people who walk the three-falls loop are locals, again treating the national park as a local park. Still, I didn’t see any problems, maybe because there’s little ranger presence on this section.

I drove to the Lakeview Drive, better known as the Road to Nowhere. The  road was open. My curiosity was satisfied.

Smokies stuff

My last stop was the Smokies Store, where I bought Smokies swag for my upcoming trip.

When I was working on my Smokies 900M, I calculated that there were sixteen entrances into the Smokies. Some were very small; others were on private land, but the number was correct. It’s obvious that the staff can’t put signs on all these entrances. But, still, Deep Creek is the second most used entrance in North Carolina. I was expecting more of a indication of the government shut-down.

PS When I got home, I headed to Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Center was open. However the parkway was closed at the first barrier, though it wasn’t clear if that was because of the shutdown or ice in the tunnels.

Elkmont with Friends of the Smokies

FOTS group

Elkmont is the “it” section of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The houses in Elkmont have been neglected, forgotten and hidden in plain sight for years, really decades. Now , it’s all over the news.

Finally the park is tearing down most of the old houses and rehabilitating a few of them . The area is (dare I say it) what the Fontana Road to Nowhere was eight to ten years ago. See the history on  my previous blogs.

So I was so glad that the Classic hikes of the Smokies decided to schedule a hike with so much history and easy hiking in December.

Crossing on Cucumber Gap Trail

It always a little tricky to postpone a group hike, especially one planned months in advance. But Friends of the Smokies decided to move the usual Tuesday hike to Thursday because of iffy weather. Nine hikers showed up at Elkmont.

We started on Millionaires Row, passing by the Spence Cabin. All the other houses on Little River Trail have been removed; only chimneys and stone foundations are left. We almost completed the circle on Cucumber Gap Trail but took Jakes Creek Trail to the Avent Cabin. Marielle and I recently found the cabin, though other hikers had known about it for years.

We came down through Society Hill, where only one house, Col. Chapman’s cabin, has been saved. After a visit to a very modern-looking cemetery, we walked down Daisy Town to the Appalachian Club.

Blowdown on Jakes Creek Trail

It looks like almost all of the houses in Daisy Town will be saved.

I’m not surprised since the houses there  were the best maintained and they are easiest for visitors to find; i.e. you can drive through Daisy Town.

Finally we drove down to the Wonderland Hotel site and climbed to the top. According to Julie Dodd who writes a blog for Friends of the Smokies,

The Wonderland Hotel Annex was one of the structures scheduled for removal . The Wonderland Hotel was removed in December 2006, after a selection of historic materials was salvaged for conservation in the park’s museum collection.

The Wonderland Hotel closed in 1992. The annex burned in 2016. Recently someone set fire to one of the Elkmont houses in Daisytown and the park is searching for the culprit(s). We saw the damage on the porch of one house.See the picture at the top.